Paralysis

I’ve been up for more than two hours today. I’m completely paralyzed by too many things to do. At this point—this point right here where I’ve opened the text box to write a blog post—I’m simply flailing. Simply grasping at any action.

Where’s the actual problem though? The paralysis isn’t from external pressures; it isn’t that I cannot figure out how to get things done in time, or on budget, to meet other’s expectations. All the expectations come from myself. This is a theme which has come up previously here multiple times.

Luke 4:23 springs to mind. What would I suggest if someone came to me with these exact symptoms, and asked me for help? I’d suggest visualizing what would success look like.

“It would be not this feeling!”

Yes, okay. Can you describe the current feeling?

“It’s a frenetic, cacophony of ideas and options, making me feel like progress—progress is clearly possible upon each idea and option, but progress upon any idea or option feels pointless.”

I notice you said, ‘feels pointless’, … why use ‘feels’ rather than ‘is’?

“Because I know that I could easily finish, at an awesome level of execution, any one of these things. So just picking one of them, arbitrarily, for discussion, progress on that one would move it towards completion.”

Are you saying that working on any of one of them— when you focus on that line of action alone— that actually feels like a good idea?

“Well, yes.”

If considering one feels okay, but considering all of them makes working on them feel not okay…

“But how do I choose? How do I be sure that I can finish all of them— all of these projects?”

You are aware that you cannot be certain to finish anything. This last thing you’ve said is a fact of life, because of the dichotomy of control. If you’ve only chosen to work on virtuous things— let’s take that as a given— then all these things you’re struggling to pick among… they’re all nothing more than preferred indifferents. Pick one, since they are all equally awesome. Chop wood. Carry water.

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Temper one another

Another reprehensible pair is the man who is never at ease and the man who is always at ease. Bustle is not briskness but the agitation of a turbulent mind. And disdaining all activity as a nuisance is not ease but enervation and inertia. … The two attitudes should temper one another: the easy going man should act, the active man take it easy. Consult nature: she will tell you that she created both day and night.

~ Seneca

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Selection

In the most general sense, productivity is about navigating from a large constellation of possible things you could be doing to the actual execution of a much smaller number of things each day.

~ Cal Newport from, https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2021/04/20/the-productivity-funnel/

A decade ago, I was swamped by the sheer number things I could possibly do each day. In one sense, that’s a good problem to have. But good or bad problem, “swamped” and “drowning” are adjacent. I’d committed myself to far too many things. Large swaths of those “possible things” every day came with emotional baggage, and often with the self-imposed weight of “should.” And so I worked on that and eliminated all the negative things.

Unfortunately, selecting what to tackle each day remains just as challenging. I’ve a habit of creating a “page for today” that I scribble on early in the morning. As the day progresses, I cross things off, jot down notes, scribble things which I need to add to my other systems, etc.. Over the years, I’ve used various bits of random paper; for a time, I was using the back-side of all the printer paper from the recycle bin. I’ve used spiral notebooks, tablets, and even a custom spreadsheet, (which I printed on 8.5×11 paper and cut in half to make my own table of half-sheet daily schedule/grid.)

Recently, I realized that the size of the paper I was using was getting progressively smaller. I’m currently using a 3×5-size of Rhodia notebook. (These, if you’re interested. Durable, great paper, and, critically, every page is micro-perforated so I can tear out each day to start fresh the next day.) The sublime recipe of page size, line space, handwriting style and hours in the day goes a long way to keep my selection of what to do tending towards the possible. Whether the sheet for today feels cramped or airy is a good indication of what I’m setting myself up for.

And to be clear, I don’t plan every day into this little book early each morning. On the days when I’ve something big planned—a day trip to the beach, a long weekend away—I throw all structure to the wind. But most days I do.

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The balance of no-balance

There was no sense of trying to balance my desire for doing good and useful things with my desire for comfort and pleasure. I let the good and useful always outrank the pleasurable and comfortable. Operating this way entailed a fair amount of physical discomfort, but it felt far more emotionally comfortable than trying to manage two competing sets of values.

And here’s the interesting part: pleasure and comfort arose constantly anyway. I enjoyed them when they did, with no sense of tradeoff or guilt. However, I didn’t do anything just because it was pleasurable or comfortable, and ironically that made for a much more pleasant and comfortable existence.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/04/the-ancient-art-of-using-time-well/

I have a few reminders that are variations of the idea that I cause all the problems I experience. The more I let that idea seep in, the better things seem to get. It takes energy to balance; balancing priorities, balancing goals, balancing time-frames of planning, balancing rationalization versus guilt, balancing energy levels, balancing responsibilities, balancing gratification versus delay, …

Try this: find something to balance on. Something pretty easy. A 2×4 laid on its wide side, or stood on it’s narrow edge. A curb. A railing if you dare. Get a stopwatch and balance (your toes/heel go along the thing you’re on, not perched like a bird) for 30 minutes. No music, no walking forward or backward, no doing anything else. Shift to the other foot when one side is tired. If you fall off, don’t chide yourself. Simple get back on. Practice being kind to yourself as you do this.

Balancing takes tremendous energy.

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You don’t say

This can lead to overwork, burnout, tiredness, and never letting ourselves enjoy a moment of rest.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/guilt/

I am by far my own worst enemy. Go go go. Do do do. In the past year this is the area where I’ve made the most progress. I’ve gotten much better at setting out a sane plan for my days. And when a day doesn’t go exactly as planned—so, basically every day—I’m now able to roll with it.

Also, I’ve long been good at “active” days off. I can spend a day biking or climbing or at some event. It doesn’t need to be gonzo-level physical either. I think the feeling of physical activity convinces my mind that something meaningful has been accomplished.

But what I cannot do is simply idle. Sit on a beach… not drinking nor reading nor writing nor thinking. Or relax on my patio. “Just be,” is definitely still beyond my grasp.

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Programming is terrible, part 2

Three years ago I posted, Programming is terrible. These days? …yeah, exactly the same, but now I find I’m staring suspiciously at, basically, everything thinking: I’m about to do something which, as soon as I completely forget the details, (in the too-near future,) I’m going to be left with something that irritates me. A mess of my own making, as it were.

I’ve been on a bender for decades—which clearly means I’ve not been succeeding, right? I’ve been on a bender to simplify things as much as I can. A lot of progress can be made in that direction simply by removing goals: If I can delete the goal of, “make this thing be successful,” then that might make it possible to simply enjoy the thing. Normal people would just call that “a hobby” and wouldn’t need a paragraph to unpack the idea.

Rock climbing falls into this “hobby” category. I’m a poor, (as in skill,) climber, but since I don’t have any goals related to climbing, it’s just, “any day at the crag.” (And the, “…is better than any other day,” is left unsaid.) That’s literally my mantra. (Somebody should find me a sticker that says that for the top of my climbing helmet.) Some days I climb a bunch of stuff. Some days I fall off a bunch of stuff. Some days it’s glorious weather. Some days it’s tics, snakes and poison ivy. I’ve climbed a bunch of stuff already. There’s a bunch more stuff to climb.

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What can be accomplished in a day

As usual, I’m forced to face the reality that what I want to get done, will never fit into my today. On one hand, it would be serene to have nothing that I wanted to do; it would be serene to simply “be” through the course of one day. On the other hand, there are things I would deeply enjoy doing which also generate benefit for myself, those around me, and the world at large. This creates tension.

The point of life isn’t to resolve that tension, but rather to live within the tension.

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Preoccupied with work

They are always preoccupied with work so that they may be in position to live better; they spend life in making provision for life. Their plans are designed for the future, but procrastination is the greatest waste of life. It robs us of each day as it comes, and extorts the present from us on promises of the future. Expectancy is the greatest impediment to living: In anticipation of tomorrow it loses today.

~ Seneca

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Make hay

“Make hay while the sun shines,” is an old proverb; We’re still using it today, 500 years after it’s first written mention. It contains deep wisdom which counsels taking advantage of opportunities as they arise. It’s taken me a loong time to get used to the fact that what I see as an opportunity, and what I see as a chore, (or work—however you care to phrase that,) are quite fluid. There’s an ebb and flow to what I want to engage in. Some things which most [sane] people would consider a complete suffer-festival—”omg why would you want to do that?!”—are the things I skip happily towards when the proverbial sun is shining. A day or two later, the things I was skipping away from become the things I’m marching back towards to whistle while I work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=83bmsluWHZc

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